Union-Tribune Publishing Company Photo
Maureen O’Connor, Peter Navarro, Susan Golding. The only thing that the reclusive ex-mayor would do in this campaign was mail me a campaign donation and then go blow ten grand at the Jackie O auction.
CHAPTER 29: Buried in Chicago
When I die, I want to be buried in Chicago — so I can stay politically active.
— Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY)
On August 26, 1996, I took off in a big silver bird for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. As the plane did a long, lazy circle over that magnificent metropolis, I thought back more than 20 years to the last time I had visited the City of Broad Shoulders.
Dale was so excited about the photo and the Union-Tribune's favorable coverage that she called me up at dawn the next morning and chirped, “You just gotta see this!”
No, I hadn’t gone to make war on the Establishment and get my head bashed in by Mayor Daley’s finest at the last Democratic National Convention held in that city — although friends had made that journey in the summer of 1968. My visit was a few years later, and it had been in the name of peace. The Peace Corps, to be precise.
Navarro campaign mailer. Ed Asner’s mission was to frame the Bilbray-Navarro race as a referendum on Newt Gingrich.
I don’t know what bureaucrat came up with this brilliant idea: Send a group of new recruits headed for the hot, humid jungles of Thailand to train in Chicago in the dead of winter, but on that frigid visit in 1973, I was outside my hotel exactly twice in a week — once to arrive and once to depart. So I didn’t know that I had missed what is arguably the most beautiful city in America — at least from an architectural point of view.
Clinton and Navarro. In the few minutes that Hillary and I spent together we talked about our races. She asked me candidly how “we” — meaning she and Bill — were doing.
Frankly, I hadn’t intended to come to the Democratic convention at all. It seemed like a luxury I couldn't afford, either financially or timewise. The journey would cost about $2000, I didn’t feel right about taking that out of my campaign funds, and if I paid for it myself, it would stretch my personal finances. Even more important, it would cost me almost a week of fund-raising and precinct walking at a time when I was already counting the days to the election. But several things happened to turn that thinking around.
The first uplift Loretta Sanchez got from the White House apparently came at my expense.
First, while my lobbyist buddy Mark Irion at the Dutko Group had grown pessimistic about putting together key electric-utility honchos for a big fund-raiser for me at the convention, he was certain he could get me on the Dutko “supercruise.” This would put me in handshake (and therefore supplicant) range of the top 100 Democratic donors in America — a captive audience for two hours on Lake Michigan. This had great appeal since my fund-raising lists were now near exhaustion and I desperately needed new leads.
Bob Dornan. What pushed Bill Clinton over the edge was when Dornan called him a “wimp" who jogged in “girlie-girlie” shorts exposing “white doughboy thighs.”
Second, with Mark Irion’s help, I had managed to get myself on the convention speaking program. This meant that I would be allowed to speak on national television with a select group of 20 other congressional candidates. I can’t tell you how very big a deal this was. It would be great exposure for my campaign, and it would send the strongest of signals to the PAC community that my race was on the Democratic Party’s A-list, and that would help my fund-raising.
Ed Asner on Navarro campaign commercial. Asner seemed a pale shadow of his former Lou Grant self. Today, he is almost as round as he is tall. He moves with a painful slowness.
Finally, my pollsters and campaign consultant strongly advised me to go. They figured that my nationally televised speech would launch “The Apology” message like a rocket, and we could also use a videotape excerpt from the speech for The Apology TV commercial, thus saving as much as $5000 in production costs.
Roger Hedgecock moderated a Bilbray-Navarro slugfest before 300 flaming assholes. If you guessed I had more fun with Hillary, you’re right.
For these reasons, I decided to go, and I’m glad I did — although it would turn out to be not only one of the most exhilarating experiences of the campaign, but also the most depressing. I’ll get into that in a minute, but for now, mon candidate, let me give you a small piece of advice. When you go to a political convention, the best place to spend time is at the numerous parties put on by lobbyists. And you don’t go for food. You go to beg for money.
Maybe, I, too, would have sold out like Susan Golding.
That’s what I found myself doing after checking into my hotel and swinging by the headquarters of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to get my floor credentials for the convention. By then it was 5:00 p.m. — prime time for lobbyist parties. I had the whole night ahead to cruise and a long list of parties to crash.
John Seymour Jr. lost a race for the San Diego City Council that political insiders had figured impossible for him to lose.
Buddy, Can You Spare Me Ten Grand
The first party was a dry hole — although it did give me my best laugh of the convention. Great historic house. Great food. Great hosts. But it was one of those parties where politicians outnumber financial donors ten to one. Not exactly a target-rich opportunity.
It would be Neil Derrough himself who would drive a stake so deep into my heart the Sunday night before the election.
Anyway, here’s the joke I heard there: Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York gets up to the podium and with the same beautiful timing comedian Redd Foxx had, Rangel lets loose with “When I die, I want to be buried in Chicago — so I can stay politically active.”
The KGTV editorial board took one step over the establishment line by endorsing me over Susan Golding.
Hey, you can get elected with a sense of humor like that and you don’t even need other talents. And speaking of Redd Foxx, I once saw him onstage, when I was 17 years old. It was at the predominantly black Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., and he leaned over to this foxy woman and said, “Honey, I may not be as good as I once was....But I’m as good once as I ever was.” Took me 20 years to get that joke.
George Stephanopoulos kindly offered to intercede with the president on my behalf.
Anyway, if Party One was a dry hole (and Parties Two through Seven, for that matter), Party Eight was a gusher. This was an open house sponsored by the Italian-American Foundation. The head of this organization is a great guy named Jim Rosapepe, and I had first come into contact with him through the good offices of Joseph Cerrell.
I told Chris Dodd I needed to raise another quick $100,000 to win, he said he would help me do it, and he instructed an aide to make sure it happened.
Cerrell was one of the first and most famous of the modem political consultants, and he still practices his trade today with as much gusto as acumen. Joe is aggressive at promoting Italian-American interests, and when he found out that I was half-Italian, he immediately began to help me out. One of the first things he did was put me in touch with Jim Rosapepe.
Christine Kehoe's bid for Congress is merely a way for her to gain name recognition and turn the gay issue into old news when she runs for another office.
At this Italian-American love-fest, Rosapepe was kind enough to help me work the room, and bingo! the first guy he introduced me to was Arthur Coia. Coia is the president of the Laborers Union, which represents almost a million construction workers. He’s also one of the guys the Wall Street Journal editorial page loves to lambaste for his alleged twin ties to Bill Clinton and the Mafia.
Well, I’d never seen a mafioso up close, and I’m not sure I did that night, but Coia did prove to be a godfather of sorts. You see, for months I’d been trying to get a PAC donation from the Laborers Union, but there was political turmoil at the local union, and I was unable to get the crucial support of that local union filtered up the chain of command.
Arthur Coia broke that logjam for me in exactly 43 seconds. That’s how long it took for Jim Rosapepe to introduce me to Coia, say I was a good guy, and, most relevant, say I was an Italian running for Congress. For my part, shy fellow that I am, all I said was “nice to meet you,” and, by the way, “I’m having just a little trouble getting some money from your PAC.” Coia turned to one of his lieutenants and said, “Take care of my paesano. ’’And he did. Ten grand in cold, hard, PAC cash, just like that.
If It Weren't for Bad Luck, I Wouldn't Have None At All
The next morning I woke up with an excitement usually reserved for five-year-olds on Christmas. I was due at the convention site by 9:00 a.m. to do a rehearsal for my next day’s speech. After that, it would be the fat-cat Dutko supercruise, and then another stellar night on the town. So much for high hopes.
It all started to go sour as soon as I got to the convention site — the United Center Arena, which is home to the Chicago Bulls. The bull I got initially was from the guy who had been assigned to shepherd me through the rehearsal. Seems that there was some kind of delay. Wasn’t quite sure if we could get this done today. Blah, blah, blah.
I usually know B.S. when I see it, so I pushed this guy until he admitted that I had been cut from the convention program. He didn’t even know why, but his instructions had been to delay and humor me.
Upon hearing these words, I felt like an asthmatic on top of Mount Everest. I was not only speechless — in more than one way — I was also quite literally breathless and had to sit down and hyperventilate. That lasted about 90 seconds. Then I got angry. Really, really, Jack Nicholson angry. What ensued is what I guess they call power politics.
My first call was to Matt Angle, who had promised that I would get to speak. He didn’t even know that I had been bumped — and he’s the frigging head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He was almost as mad about the situation as I was because his promise was on the line, and he told me frankly that the problem was that the convention was ultimately a White House operation, over which he had no control. But he promised to get on the horn and see what he could do.
My next call was to Mark Irion. Mark had worked hard to help get me on the program, and he was stunned to learn that I had been bumped. But he had an ace to play as well. He promised to call Dan Dutko, his boss, who happened to be one of the three main guys running the convention and the Clinton-Gore campaign’s biggest fund-raiser.
The last call I made was to my guardian angel Chuck Davenport. This was the only call I didn’t want to make. Chuck had been so helpful that I just wanted him and his wife to enjoy the convention hoopla without having to pull in any chits for me. But, I also knew that a few calls from Chuck expressing his displeasure at this turn of events would not only put the screws to everybody, it would also give Matt Angle a good argument with the White House not to bump me, namely, “don’t tick off a guy who just gave $100,000 to the Democratic Party.”
Now here’s the topping on this dung-covered cake: it took me so long to get everybody on the phone, I missed the boat. Literally. Yep. The frigging supercruise. I got to the dock breathless after a harrowing ride through Chicago traffic just as the money boat was leaving the dock. I almost jumped in the water and swam after it. Instead, I slumped down on a bench and watched it go — visions of drowning dollar bills dancing on my brain.
That night, I was in a deep funk. I had done everything I could to get back on the program, but I wouldn’t hear until morning from Matt Angle as to whether that would happen. While the temptation was to take a hot shower, order room service, and sink into a depressive sleep, I realized that that would be stupid. In a campaign, every minute counts, so I took a cold shower as shock therapy and took off to cruise parties. That’s when I met the vivacious Loretta Sanchez — and got even more depressed.
Loretta Sanchez will rightfully go down in history as the woman who exorcised the Bob Dornan demon from Congress. Dornan, of course, is the tightly wound ex-congressman from Orange County whose major claim to any legitimate fame is that he almost single-handedly saved the B-1 bomber program from budgetary extinction.
In this election cycle, however, B-1 Bob would get distracted by a quixotic run for, president, forget to raise enough money for his congressional campaign, and lose by a few hundred votes. This would turn out to be a good thing because Bob Dornan is to Congress as HIV is to blood.
On the politically correct front, he has called his opponent Loretta Sanchez “another Catholic for abortion and sodomy” and whined about how “lesbian spear-chuckers” were out to get him, then later explained he only meant to say spear “carriers.”
On the compassion front, he once said this about the paraplegic and pacifistic Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, “If Kovic hadn’t been shot, he’d have been strutting about his two tours of Vietnam.”
And in the telling-it-like-it-is category, Dornan has called Oliver Stone a “Bolshevik enemy,” referred to a fellow Republican as a “pathetic, old, senile man,” and described Phil Donahue as “a boot-licking wimp” (although I’d probably agree with that last one).
Nonetheless, on occasion. Dornan can be funny. As the nephew of Jack Haley — the Tinman in The Wizard of Oz — Dornan no doubt drew inspiration from his roots for this Clinton riposte: “Gore is searching for a brain. Hillary is searching for a heart. And Clinton is searching for Dorothy.”
Anyway, at this point in the game, nobody gave Loretta Sanchez a prayer of beating Bob Dornan, wacky though he was. However, the Chicago convention would be the turning point in Sanchez’s ultimately winning campaign. The reason: At the convention, Bill and Hillary Clinton adopted Loretta Sanchez as their pet candidate, and they did so out of a white-hot hatred of B-1 Bob.
Some people say that Bill Clinton hates Bob Dornan because Dornan called him a “womanizer, a liar, a triple draft dodger, a drug abuser, and someone who gave aid and comfort to the enemy." But I don’t think that’s the real reason. I think what pushed Bill Clinton over the edge was when Dornan called him a “wimp" who jogged in “girlie-girlie” shorts exposing “white doughboy thighs.” Talk about a last straw.
At any rate. Bill and Hillary would get behind Sanchez at the convention and pull her all the way to victory. Unfortunately, the first uplift Loretta Sanchez got from the White House apparently came at my expense. Here’s how it went down.
When I met Sanchez, she was working the crowd at the same event that I was, and the first thing she told me was that she had just gotten word from “Hillary’s people” that she had been put on the convention program to speak the next day. Given that the number of candidates and the time allotted for the speeches was fixed, that meant that in all likelihood I was staring into the eyes of the very person who had bumped me off the top-20 list.
After some very small talk. I wished her well and went to call Matt Angle on his cell phone to let him know what I had just learned. It was the first time I couldn’t get a straight answer out of him, so I figured that Sanchez probably was at the root of my problem — but Matt reiterated his promise to try and work it out.
Three Minutes of Fame
The next morning I woke up bright and early and did what I often do at times of greatest stress: go running. It was a gorgeous day, so I headed out from the hotel and walked down to water’s edge and then jogged around the faux beach that rings the Chicago waterfront. I got back to my hotel on an endorphin high just in time for an urgent message to get my butt out to the United Center Arena that afternoon. Matt had gotten me back on the program!
I suppose I should have been ecstatic at this point. But I wasn’t. Instead, the episode left me with an acrid taste in my mouth. I thought, Why do I have to fight so hard for everything in this campaign — particularly with members of my own party? They should be laying down a red carpet for me at every step of the way instead of claymore mines. But I couldn’t dwell on that. It was going to be a busy afternoon and evening.
I’ve had some pressure-packed moments in my life, but few can compare to standing on the presidential podium that day talking to the nation. The best part was that the microphones were the best damn microphones I have ever babbled into. My small and on occasion squeaky voice went into that precision technology, and out boomed Charlton Heston. I wanted to do the Ten Commandments right on the spot. And I could have done what Bill Clinton often does when he makes speeches, which is to go on for hours just to hear myself talk. Instead, what I did was The Apology. What I said was this:
“I have in the past participated in negative campaigning, and I regret it deeply. I let my supporters down, and I apologize, for we must stress the positive ideas for which we are fighting, and we must believe that America's best days are before us and that those of us who earn the privilege to serve must give the very best that is within us. So I say let's win one for hope, for the man from Hope, Bill Clinton."
Pretty good stuff, if I do say so myself. And that portion of the speech hit the national media — dovetailing as it did with the Clinton-Dole sparring over negative campaigning.
By the way, if you still aren’t convinced that the San Diego Union-Tribune is a shameless propaganda rag run by a bunch of syphilitic pricks masquerading as journalists, then maybe this will convince you. The lead paragraph of the U-Ts story about my speech said, “Peter Navarro had his three minutes of fame yesterday.” Cheap shot.
The story went on to describe yours truly as follows: “A former Republican and a former independent, Navarro is also a former unsuccessful candidate for mayor of San Diego, the San Diego City Council, and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.” Cheaper shot.
Nonetheless — and here’s the good news — the speech was great for morale back at campaign headquarters. My campaign manager Dale Kelly Bankhead loved it so much she almost wore out the VCR playing the video for anyone who would sit still for three minutes to watch it.
The bad news about the speech is that it was a total flop in terms of fodder for TV commercials. The problem was that the TV cameras were as good as the microphones, and because they were so good, they made me look like Richard Nixon rather than Robert Redford. Meaning that I had this ugly five o’clock shadow even though I had shaved just three hours before shoot time. This was bizarre because I don’t have a thick beard. In fact, when I do my regular TV gigs, I’m one of the few people they don’t have to put much makeup on.
Satori in Chicago
That night was the night of Vice President Gore’s speech, and the Democratic Party had broken with tradition by giving Gore a night all his own. It was Bill Clinton’s way of giving his buddy and running mate a leg up on his presidential campaign in the year 2000.
Sitting in the Dutko box with Mark Irion and his pregnant wife, just yards from Vice President Gore as he delivered his speech, was a satori for me — one of the most peaceful nights of the entire campaign. Gore gave a beautiful and rousing performance, one that repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet.
Gore also gave me material for what would be one of my best jokes of the campaign — a joke I would tell two months later warming up the crowd at Balboa Park for a speech by President Clinton. Gore’s joke was “Want to see me do the Macarena?” Then, as the crowd chanted Yes! Yes! Yes! Gore just stood there. I’ve seen sphinxes move more than Gore did in those ten seconds. Then he brought the house down with “Want to see me do it again?"
I went back to the hotel that night a happy man, slept like a baby, and checked out early the next morning to head home. It would be Bill Clinton’s night to accept the nomination, and while I could have stayed, there was work to be done on the home front. I’d done my job and I’d done it well.
However, as I sat down in a plastic chair in the departure lounge, I looked up to see the Dick Morris scandal unfolding on CNN. If I felt sick to my stomach, you can imagine what this must have done to the insides of Bill Clinton on this, one of the biggest and what was supposed to be one of the best nights of his political life.
Morris, you no doubt recall, is the Republican political consultant who came into the White House about midway through Clinton’s first term and arguably saved the Clinton presidency. What Morris got caught doing while he was serving the president was having some hooker service him at one of Washington’s most exclusive hotels.
When I saw this story break, I thought it would be disastrous. In fact, there were only two points during the campaign when I thought Clinton might lose the race. Right at that Morris Moment and two weeks before when Bob Dole had surprised everybody by nominating one of his mortal enemies, Jack Kemp, to be his running mate.
That just goes to show you what I know. Because Bad Boy Morris wound up causing as big a blip on the Gallup poll radar screen as the Boy Scout Kemp did — which is to say none at all. But I didn’t know that at the time, and it was a long, depressing flight home.
CHAPTER 30: A Radical, Pinko Commie to the Rescue
So far, Ed Asner’s actions have spurred a recall petition, several death threats, the defacing of the Screen Actors Guild’s Hollywood headquarters with posters labeling him "a Communist swine,” calls for a sponsor boycott of his CBS-TV series, Lou Grant, and the formation of a watchdog committee to monitor his future actions, and those of the guild board, for political transgressions. His Salvadoran-related actions have also produced considerable public controversy and some virulent newspaper editorials.
— The Christian Science Monitor
On September 23, I flew to Portland, Oregon, for the campaign’s TV-commercial shoot. It is not standard operating procedure for a candidate to leave his home district so close to the election to spend a day in a far-off city — particularly one with miserable weather. In this case, however, my excursion would save the campaign about $15,000 in TV production costs. The reason: Ed Asner was in Portland on a project, and that’s where we were going to shoot his “Vote of Your Life” spot. Since we had to rent a studio for the day to do it, it made sense for me to fly up and shoot my commercial as well.
You may recall from an earlier chapter that the Vote of Your Life message was a linchpin of our campaign strategy. The goal of the ad was to frame my congressional race not as a choice between Navarro and Bilbray but as a referendum on keeping the Republicans in the majority and Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House. For this purpose, we needed a strong third party to make the most credible pitch possible.
Let me confess that Ed Asner was not my First choice to do the Vote of Your Life commercial. The person I really wanted for this third-party validation was former San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor — one of the most beloved, respected, and trusted women in my little town. But try as I might to woo her, this would be the second time she would let me down in a political race.
The first time had really hurt. In my 1992 mayor’s race, the then-Mayor O’Connor had come within a cat’s whisker of endorsing me several weeks before the general election. But when word got out that Maureen might take the Navarro plunge, the whole damn outhouse hit the turboprop.
I don’t know if it was a call from Union-Tribune publisher and Maureen-best-friend Helen Copley, or whether it was a sober recommendation against the endorsement from confidante and developer-lobbyist Paul Peterson. Or maybe it was the raking over the coals she took from talk-show host Roger Hedgecock. But in the end she backed off, which was a real pity. Because given her status as Beloved Icon, her endorsement would have all but guaranteed me a victory.
It was a pity, too, that upon her election Susan Golding dismantled practically all of O’Connor’s favorite programs — including Maureen’s annual Christmas-homeless-shelter project. This destruction of the O’Connor legacy came, by the way? just as I had told Maureen it would if Golding won, but Maureen wouldn’t listen to me.
In my congressional race, Maureen didn’t even want to talk to me. The only thing that the reclusive ex-mayor would do in this campaign was mail me a campaign donation and then go blow ten grand at the Jackie O auction.
What a supreme and, dare I say, selfish waste of political talent Maureen has become in her seclusion, particularly since she could use just a small fraction of the millions of dollars she inherited from her late husband to beat virtually anybody in San Diego for any office. Then she could do some real good — as she did as mayor.
But instead of Maureen O’Connor, I wound up with Ed Asner. It all started with a trip to Los Angeles to introduce myself to the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee. Ostensibly, my visit had been to solicit PAC funds, but I also hoped that they might help me lasso a celebrity to do the Vote of Your Life ad.
The celebrity I had in mind was the redoubtable Angela Lansbury. I thought she’d be great at getting through to the older Democratic and Independent men as well as to the Republican women who were still proving to be my Achilles’ heel. But I was told that Angela had become gun-shy — indeed, had gotten shot up pretty good — after doing a TV commercial opposing term limits in California. The ad not only turned out to be grossly inaccurate, it also was bad for the ratings of Murder, She Wrote, and the word was out that Ms. Lansbury wouldn’t be doing any more of that kind of thing.
As an alternative, Lisa Presto at the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee suggested that lack Lemmon and Ed Asner were politically involved and might help if I asked. So, with the blessing and support of the committee, I sent letters to both, and Ed Asner was the one who promptly responded.
Ben Hur Kicks Lou Grant's Butt
I love Ed Asner and I’m grateful to him for his help. I also greatly respect him for his political activism. However, I must live with the haunting possibility that the Asner TV ad did at least as much harm as it did good.
The problem was that, like me, Asner carries political baggage from an earlier era of fire-brand activism. In his heyday as president of the Screen Actors Guild, he had taken a hard-line union position and led a strike against the movie producers. He also had raised funds to pay for medical supplies for the leftist rebels of El Salvador while he was president of the guild.
This act of defiance against American foreign policy drew the opprobrium of President Ronald Reagan (himself a former president of the guild). It aLso drew the wrath of Asner’s predecessor at the guild, Charlton “Ben Hur” Heston and earned Asner the sobriquet of “the Jane Fonda of Latin America.” The upshot of this uproar was that Asner’s Lou Grant Show was canceled — so much for free speech in America — and Asner was forever branded a radical pinko commie by many of the same forces in Hollywood that had once participated in the McCarthy-era Hollywood blacklisting.
(By the way, when Ronald Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1950s and actress Gale Sondergaard asked the guild to protect her from the House Un-American Activities Committee, the response of the Reagan board was that “all participants in the international Communist Party conspiracy against our nation should be exposed for what they are — enemies of our country and of our form of government.” Just thought you should know.)
Now, ignoramus that I am, I had no idea of Asner’s radical baggage. I just thought he was the salt of the earth — a guy whom every American could trust, which is to say, Lou Grant. More importantly, I did not realize that many San Diegans — particularly the older demographic groups that I desperately needed to win — would most remember Asner as the Bolshevik who had given the beloved Ronald Reagan the (figurative) finger. At least that was the rhetoric that hit the talk-radio rounds as soon as the Asner ad hit in October.
Usually, it’s a good sign when people start talking about your ad. It means that its message is getting through. But the relentless barrage of red-baiting that Asner was peppered with by the Hedgecock groupies and others presaged a strong voter backlash. More about that later.
For now, let me tell you that at first glance in that Portland filming studio, the seasoned-citizen version of Ed Asner seemed a pale shadow of his former Lou Grant self. Today, he is almost as round as he is tall. He moves with a painful slowness — as if, in fact, he might be in great pain — knees, back, hips, or whatever gets so many of us in old age.
But when Ed Asner sat down in that studio chair to do the Vote of Your Life ad, the transformation was mesmerizing. On that throne, he became the Force, the Buddha, the Voice of Authority, and Everybody’s Lovable Teddy Bear of a Grandfather all rolled into one magnificent and weighty presence. You would just have to love and trust this guy and do whatever he recommended — or so I thought.
And what I most loved about Ed Asner that day was his supreme professionalism. After he did the first take, which was fine and which would have been fine for 99 percent of the actors on the planet, he insisted on doing 27 more takes until he got it right. Twenty-seven takes! Here’s the script of the ad:
“Brian Bilbray's very first vote was for Newt Gingrich as Speaker. That’s why all eyes are on San Diego today. If Bilbray wins, Gingrich stays in power. If he loses, Gingrich is out. Bill Clinton wants Peter Navarro on his team to protect Medicare, the environment, and education. The race is really bigger than Navarro or Bilbray. It’s about whether Newt Gingrich stays in power. It’s the vote of your life. Make it Peter Navarro.”
The ad was powerful and perfect — except for the messenger. Furthermore, we compounded the error by running the ad too soon, too long, and too often — giving the other side a chance to mount an effective counterattack.
In hindsight, the one thing I wish my campaign had done that it didn’t was to test that ad in several focus groups before airing it It would have been easy to gauge the extent to which Asner’s radical image undercut his credibility with San Diego voters. And the lesson here, mon candidate, is this: Always test your message before broadcasting. As your mama no doubt used to tell you, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
CHAPTER 31: Campaign Dirty Tricks, Part Deux
I repeat... that all power is a trust; that we are accountable for its exercise; that, from the people, and for the people, all springs, and all must exist.
On the night I flew back from Portland and the Ed Asner shoot, I turned on the 11:00 p.m. news to see myself being sliced and diced for not showing up for a debate with Brian Bilbray. Let the record reflect that this was the only debate in my political life that I ever purposely ducked. The reason: It wasn’t really a debate at all but an ambush — one that two years earlier at the same location and under similar circumstances had brought the normally tough-as-nails Lynn Schenk almost to tears.
Some campaign strategy here, mon candidate: One of the dirtiest, not to mention rudest, tricks in campaigning is to stuff a debate audience with your supporters and have them loudly cheer you and even more loudly boo your opponent. If you are really good at this dirty trick, you’ll also manipulate the questions being asked. And if you are absolutely great at this dirty trick, you’ll even make sure that the “neutral” debate moderator is one of your staunchest supporters. At least for this one debate, Brian Bilbray was great.
The ambush was held in the epicenter of Brian Bilbray’s voting base. Point Loma — home of San Diego’s old Republican money. My problem wasn’t with the place, mind you. I like venturing into the lion’s den on occasion. Rather, the problem was with the young punk in pin-stripes who had muscled his way into the role of debate moderator. This was John Seymour Jr. — Republican consultant, Bilbray fanatic, and former aide to my ongoing nemesis Susan Golding.
Junior is the scion of one of the biggest political flops in California history, one-time Senator John Seymour. The senior Seymour had been appointed to the Senate by Pete Wilson in 1990 to replace Wilson after he had been elected governor of California. However, the hapless Seymour turned out to be as bad at campaigning as he was at senatorial politics, and he got trounced by Diane Feinstein in a special election some months later.
Now young Seymour seemed to be following in Daddy’s footsteps. Indeed, he had just lost a race for the San Diego City Council that political insiders had figured impossible for him to lose. But Junior got caught in the ugly glare of a political money-laundering scandal — his boss allegedly tried to funnel money into his campaign via a daughter in Idaho — and Seymour got trounced just as his papa had.
The relevance of this story is that yours truly just happened to be a member of the media corps that broke the Seymour scandal, during my brief stint as a talk-show host on KOGO radio. With this debate, it would be payback time.
You might think it odd that a loyal partisan like Seymour would be allowed the role of “neutral” moderator in a congressional debate. Hey, it was odd, and my campaign sent a letter of protest to the debate organizers. However, Seymour was chairperson of one of the planning groups sponsoring the debate, wearing that hat made the moderator role his to play, and nobody on the planning group appeared to share our sense of outrage.
Stonewalled as we were by the debate sponsors, my consultant Larry Remer and pollster Bob Meadow put their feet down. No way would I appear if young punk Seymour was the moderator — particularly since in the last election, Bilbray had loaded that Point Loma audience with an assortment of gun nuts, anarchists, and wackos who had lacerated Bilbray’s opponent, then-Congresswoman Lynn Schenk.
Actually, this episode really stuck in my craw because, as I said earlier, I don’t mind going into hostile audiences. It’s always a challenge, usually fun, and never boring. But in this case I had to agree with Larry and Bob: There wasn’t any upside to my appearing, and since we didn’t think the media would cover it, there appeared to be little downside risk.
“Appeared,” I say, because my absence from the event wound up extracting its little pound of my campaign flesh. The gouge came in the form of a hard-hitting “empty-chair debate” news segment on the TV station that loves to hate me, KNSD (more about that station later). So sometimes in a campaign, you just can’t win for losing, and if I have any advice for you here, mon candidate, it is that you should go wherever you are invited to debate, stay cool, and stay on your campaign message. Because anything is better than the Empty Chair.
CHAPTER 32: We Lose the Election but Don't Know It
The House late Saturday easily passed a budget accord reached with the White House that President Clinton hailed as bipartisan progress towards a balanced budget....The new fiscal year starts Tuesday, Oct. 1, and without passage of this bill, federal agencies would be forced to close. A middle-of-night compromise on legislation to impose strict controls on immigration and crack down on illegal aliens cleared the way for agreement on the massive spending bill which funds the largest agencies in the government.
— Reuters North American Wire
The failure of the Democrats to win back Congress didn’t happen on Election Day but rather one month earlier, on September 28 — the last day of the 104th Congress. On that day, Bill Clinton’s presidency and Newt Gingrich’s Congress ended a bitter gridlock that had been shutting down the government and showed America beyond any reasonable doubt that these two halves of a “divided government” could work together on balancing the budget and passing legislation.
Up until that critical point, public perception of the Gingrich regime was that it was a careening ship of loose cannons incapable of compromise — a vile vessel hell-bent on sinking the government in the profane name of a narrow and brittle ideology. With one flourish of the presidential pen, however. Bill Clinton changed everything. Absolutely and irrevocably everything.
From the perspective of my own campaign, the Clinton-Gingrich deal contained two pieces of legislation that strengthened and amplified my opponent’s campaign message. This legislation would throw many Americans off welfare and keep many Mexicans and other illegal aliens out of the country. If the staff at Merriam-Webster were to search for examples of a “salient issue,” they could do no better than to cite the strong appeal that welfare reform and immigration reform have to most San Diegans. Indeed, for Brian Bilbray, these issues would play as sweet as Yo-Yo Ma at the Met.
From a national perspective, the worst part of the Clinton-Gingrich deal was that it showed that a divided government — one with a Democratic presidency and a Republican Congress — could not only work, it could work very well at hammering out critical, middle-of-the-road legislation.
From that point on, the Republicans deftly used this divided-government theme to neutralize and ultimately overpower the anti-Gingrich “Take Back the House” message. For over a year, this message had been the only pillar of the Democratic Party’s campaign house. But with one callous, cynical handshake between Gingrich and Clinton, that pillar came crashing down, taking the prospects for a Democratic House down with it. The destruction was all the more devastating because Bill Clinton went out of his way to praise Gingrich and the Republican Congress for their flexibility.
Not surprisingly, within a few weeks a New York Times/CBS News poll showed that Republican congressional candidates outdistanced Democratic candidates by 48 to 41 percent when voters were asked if it would “be better to elect a Democratic Congress to increase the power of President Clinton” or to elect a Republican Congress to “limit the power of President Clinton.” This was a dramatic reversal from the eight- to ten-digit lead Democrats had held over Republicans since Gingrich had shut down the government during the Christmas holidays — and the Republican lead would hold firmly as their campaign strategists continued to beat the divided-government drum.
The Clinton Sellout
There are two explanations why Bill Clinton let the Republicans off the Gingrich hook at this eleventh hour. The charitable view is that the president put the interests of his country ahead of the interests of his political party: The budget gridlock had to stop, and this was the best way to do it.
I do not subscribe to this view. Before telling you why, let me make it clear once again that I like Bill Clinton, I owe Bill Clinton a lot (as you will see as you continue reading), and I believe he’s been a good president. But the truth is the truth and that is what I’ve tried to tell in this story. So in the name of Truth, I have to say that I have a far less charitable view of Clinton’s actions, one that I no doubt share with Democrats like Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle. That view is this:
The Clinton sellout to Gingrich and the Republicans was the most selfish and shortsighted deal that William Jefferson Clinton has ever cut. It was selfish because its primary purpose was to guarantee Clinton a victory over a hapless, helpless opponent whom Clinton was going to destroy anyway. The deal did so not only by positioning Clinton further to the right with its tough approach to welfare and immigration, it also did so by taking away any criticism by Bob Dole that Clinton couldn’t work with a Republican Congress.
But the Clinton sellout was also shortsighted because it virtually guaranteed that Clinton would be a lame duck president thwarted by a Republican Congress for the rest of his tenure in office. Indeed, as history has already shown us, the Clinton-Gingrich compromise was not an example of good things to come under a working divided government — as it was so lavishly advertised at the time. Rather, it was simply an aberrant compromise struck in the heat of a campaign a month before an election by two men — one desperate (Newt) and one selfish (Bill) — who saw that deal in their own self-interest.
Viewed from this perspective, it is clear that Newt Gingrich got the best of the deal because it allowed him to consolidate his hold on Congress — even if it appeared that Gingrich had to eat a little crow at the time. Equally clear is that Bill Clinton’s victory was a Pyrrhic one at best — an ill-conceived insurance policy that the president didn’t even need and one that has, and will continue to, cost him dearly.
The only other thing I can tell you about the Clinton sellout is that if the shoe had been on the other foot with a Republican president and a Democratic Congress, the Republicans never would have been as selfish or shortsighted. If there is one good thing I can say about the Republicans, it is that they are generally better than Democrats at putting the interests of their party above the interests of any one of its members. And if that had been Dick Gephardt rather than Newt Gingrich twisting in the wind, the Republicans would have had him still spinning like a top.
Having gotten this off my chest, let me turn now to the other thing that Bill Clinton did to virtually insure that the Democrats would not take back Congress from the Republicans. That was to suck in every available Democratic fund-raising dollar — leaving nothing but crumbs for many critical House and Senate races.
CHAPTER 33: Me and Bill Clinton, Part II
We’re seven weeks from Election Day, and the Democrats need hard, federal dollars fast. Ed McMahon, the prize patrol, and the Wizard of Oz all rolled into one couldn’t make up for so much lost time....[Bill Clinton] should have started this a year ago.
— Dan McLagan on Clinton’s September 20 pledge to raise money for congressional races
My second encounter with Bill Clinton happened at a Hollywood fund-raiser. I regret to say it was not the one where Barbra Streisand serenaded him under the stars, Maya Angelou read him poetry, and Tom Hanks, Don Henley, and the Neville Brothers otherwise entertained him. That event, which raised $4 million, would have been really cool to attend. But no such luck.
At the fund-raiser I did go to, I met a Beverly Hills pawnbroker, a pornography hotline czar, and a flamboyant record mogul. I also met more than a few deadbeats who, like me, had managed to get through several layers of the Secret Service to shake Clinton’s hand without donating a dime for the privilege.
I went to this fund-raiser at the suggestion of Noah Mamet, the wunderkind from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who had done such a great job organizing my Al Gore fund-raiser at the Davenport house. After that event, Noah had gone out of his way to put me on the guest list of any event where he thought I might be able to raise money; and Noah believed this party would be a great one to attend because there would be a lot of people there ripe for the plucking. And pluck I did.
Besides soliciting checks for close to $10,000 that night, I met a young entrepreneur from the Indian community who would later help raise another $10,000 at a fund-raiser for me hosted by President Clinton. I’ll tell you more about that in another chapter, but let me observe now how easy it is for money-hungry political candidates to fall into the trap of making commitments to political issues they might otherwise avoid.
In this case, one of the biggest concerns of the Indian community is American aid to India's archenemy Pakistan. As with Taiwanese, Korean, Israeli, and many other foreign interests, campaign contributions have become an effective way of influencing such aspects of American foreign policy. While I am grateful for the money that I received from my Indian friends, such activity should present yet another warning flag that the current system of campaign finance is fraught with policy risk — as the John Huang and Buddhist temple scandals should, in fact, signal.
That Giant Sucking Sound
But policy risk is not what this chapter is about. What I want to discuss is the real “giant sucking sound” that Ross Perot should have warned us about. The sound of the Clinton-Gore fund-raising machine. During the course of the campaign, that mother of all Oreck vacuum cleaners would raise over $100 million and, in the process, drain just about every major Democratic donor dry. The result was that it left many critical Senate and House races grossly underfunded. Indeed, all that was left after Barbara Streisand and Maya Angelou did their things were crumbs from the Clinton table.
Now here’s the worst part: Bill Clinton did so damn little so damn late to rectify the situation. Oh, sure, under intense pressure from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, the White House eventually agreed in late September to raise a measly $10 million dollars to help take back the Congress. (Yes, that’s the same Congress that Clinton would need to effectively govern.) But it was too little for the numerous races being contested and, as the epigraph to this chapter indicates, it was certainly too late.
Just look at my race. I wound up being outspent by more than two to one by my opponent. The impact of my money constraint was that I could not compete on an equal footing with Brian Bilbray in the critical TV market. As I’ll talk about in a separate chapter, Bilbray got up on the air earlier than I did, he successfully inoculated himself against my message, and, over the course of the campaign, he ran at least twice as many commercials as I did. Everything else being equal, a candidate in my position typically will lose in that situation — and everything else wasn’t equal because, as I have documented earlier, I had some serious problems to overcome.
The bottom line: Bill Clinton could have helped me and the 20 or so other candidates in critical House races a whole lot more than he did. All it would have taken was for him to earmark an extra $10 million from his own pot of gold and transfer it from the Democratic National Committee to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Trust me, the money never would have been missed, and the only result would have been a smaller landslide — which is an oxymoron if I’ve ever written one.
CHAPTER 34: Paddling Upstream Against the Mainstream Media
The word media is plural for mediocre.
— Rene Saguisag
The second, and last, major televised debate of my congressional campaign aired on September 29. It was a prime-time simulcast carried on television and radio by the local public-broadcasting affiliate as part of the PBS national special The Future Congress.
The Bilbray-Navarro bout was actually the undercard on a night when heavyweights Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott from the Republican congressional leadership would duke it out with their Democratic counterparts, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle. Across the country, local PBS stations carried hot congressional races as the prelude to this national debate; and all I could think of when I first heard about the idea was how much better the electoral process would be if there were more opportunities like this for candidates to get their messages across on local television.
Unfortunately, in my little town, as in most cities in America, an event like the PBS broadcast is the exception that proves the more general rule that television stations pay little attention to local politics. Let me get on my soapbox for a minute and tell you how damaging this is.
In order for voters to decide which candidate to choose, they must be well informed about the candidates’ messages. If local television and newspapers won’t carry those messages, the only way candidates can get their messages across is by spending money on direct mail or TV commercials. This dearth of free media, in turn, heavily tips the balance in favor of the candidate with the most money, virtually guaranteeing that local offices will go to the highest bidder. The result is special-interest control over the outcome of local elections.
Why doesn’t local TV news provide better coverage of local politics? There are at least two answers — one obvious and one perhaps more subtle. The obvious reason is that most TV news directors believe that the average television viewer doesn’t give a rat’s ass about local politics. Rape, murder, carjackings, and natural disasters are far better bets in the ratings game.
I’d like to say these bean counters are wrong, but I’m not sure about that. What I am sure about is that the second and more subtle reason for the lack of TV coverage is that covering local politics can be bad for business, particularly if you take the wrong candidate’s side. Let me show you what I mean with a Tale of Two TV Executives: Ed Quinn and Neil Derrough.
The Business of San Diego Is Business
During my 1992 mayor’s race, Ed Quinn ran KGTV — the ABC affiliate in San Diego. At the time, KGTV was the number-one-ranked station in the city, and Quinn felt a genuine commitment to increasing coverage of local politics. To that end, he not only scheduled a live, primetime mayoral debate the Monday night before the election, he also gave Susan Golding and me free advertising time to get our messages across.
While Quinn likely did this out of a sense of public duty, the gambit turned out to be a stroke of public-relations genius because it allowed KGTV to better position itself as the community-oriented station in town. What was most interesting, however, is that once KGTV threw its local-politics gauntlet down, the other major TV stations followed suit.
For starters, Neil Derrough’s NBC affiliate, KNSD, sponsored a prime-time debate on the Sunday before the election — a debate, as I shall explain shortly, that allowed Derrough to give me one of the biggest screw jobs I’ve ever gotten in politics. At the same time, the CBS affiliate, KFMB — shut out by its competitors on the prime-time evening coverage — scheduled a set of weekly minidebates on the five o’clock news in the months preceding the election.
It was great coverage, and I’d like to report that it started a new trend toward covering local politics in San Diego — but such was not the case. What happened was that Ed Quinn and the KGTV editorial board took one step over the establishment line by endorsing me over Susan Golding.
Retribution was swift and sure. One of the major car dealers in town canceled thousands of dollars in advertising to protest KGTV’s sacrilege, and if you’re curious which dealer it was, I don’t know because Quinn wouldn’t tell me. My best guess, however, is that it was Steve Cushman because Cushman, according to Quinn, had used such pressure before to protest negative news coverage of his industry by KGTV.
Despite this pressure, Quinn held his ground with the endorsement — there was really no face-saving way out. But the sponsor’s boycott still had several undesirable effects on my campaign.
First, throughout the rest of my campaign, KGTV did absolutely nothing more for me when, in fact, it could have done a great deal. All it would have taken was one or two editorials from the highly respected Quinn decrying the mudslinging tactics of Susan Golding early in the game, and the rest of the race would have been fought fairly and on the issues — not in the gutter to which it devolved. Even more importantly, Quinn’s actions seemingly escalated an already fierce competition between him and Neil Derrough at rival KNSD for the hearts and minds of San Diego’s television viewers — and the megabucks of the establishment’s advertisers.
Neil Derrough is as different from Ed Quinn as Don Ho is from Don Henley. Quinn is hip, handsome, articulate, and athletic. Derrough is a bespectacled nerd with tortured syntax who was running a TV station sinking ever deeper into the ratings muck. Comparing himself to Quinn, Derrough must have felt like Twiggy standing next to Dolly Parton at a wet T-shirt contest.
Nonetheless, there was one edge Derrough had. While the progressive Quinn was aloof and independent and uncomfortable with breaking bread and rubbing elbows with the power brokers of San Diego’s establishment, the conservative Derrough had quickly, quietly, and thoroughly ingratiated himself right into the middle of that influential melange. Indeed, together with his Business Roundtable colleague Steve Cushman, Derrough was working his way up the hierarchy of the Chamber of Commerce in the hope of one day being named its chairman. What better way to kick Ed Quinn’s butt — and steal his advertisers — than by kicking mine?
So while Quinn and KGTV were backing off from my campaign, Derrough and KNSD were pouring it on. It would be KNSD that would replay my alleged “shoving match” with Golding’s press secretary so many times that the station would be ridiculed by the Los Angeles Times. It would be KNSD that would prominently air the devastating “Drag Queen in tears” interview with Nicole Ramirez Murray after I had publicly attacked Murray in a mayoral debate with Susan Golding. Most treacherously, it would be Neil Derrough himself who would drive a stake so deep into my heart the Sunday night before the election that I still feel a sharp pain when I think about it.
What Derrough did was this: Right at the end of my debate with Susan Golding, he ran an editorial endorsing Golding. However, he ran the editorial without running our campaign's rebuttal. Moreover, he did so despite the strong protest of his own editorial director Tim Chelling. (Later, in a conversation with Ed Quinn, Quinn would describe this as one of the most flagrant fouls he’d ever seen in television broadcasting.)
Which brings me back to Ed Quinn and KGTV. Because the long-run impact of his foray into my race is that KGTV has withdrawn completely from any involvement in candidate politics. Instead, what KGTV does is what most every other TV station in America does — rapes and murders and consumer tips interspersed with sensational sweepsweek stunts like “Barbie Meets the Nutty Professor.”
In that particular stunt, the station put their bleached-blond Barbie anchorette Kimberly Hunt into a “fat suit" just like Eddie Murphy wore in The Nutty Professor. Then they turned this grotesque, quivering mass of fake flesh loose on the Mission Beach Boardwalk with a hidden camera and microphone to see how many testosterone-crazed teenagers would call the beloved Kimberly a fat pig.
Of course, the hypocrisy lost in this hand-wringing, politically correct venture was that if Kimberly had been even half that fat, she never would have been allowed inside the station — much less behind the anchor desk. I also think that the story would have gotten higher ratings if they had simply put Kimmie on the Boardwalk in Rollerblades and a butt-floss bikini.
Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee
So now, and sadly, the role of covering local politics falls mostly to the more sparsely viewed public broadcasting affiliate, KPBS; and that’s how I found myself sitting on a presidential-looking set going toe-to-toe with Brian Bilbray before a live TV audience.
It was really fun, mostly because, unlike in our first debate, KPBS allowed a third-party candidate into the act, the Libertarian dentist Ernie Lippe. Lippe is a crack-up, and his best line of the night came at my and Bilbray’s expense when Lippe described himself as the “rose between two thorns.”
Plus, I was glad that Lippe was there because I was able to use him as a shield while I pretty much had my way with a seemingly confused Mr. Bilbray. How Lippe helped was that every time I wanted to hit Bilbray hard on a point, I did it when it would be Lippe's turn to respond next. By the time it was Bilbray’s turn, any rejoinder directly to me would not only seem odd to the audience but also overly defensive.
So throughout this glorious night, I felt like Cassius Clay taking on Sonny Liston as I peppered Bilbray with my campaign message — floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee. My only problem with the debate is that few people saw it, and for the few who did, I was mostly singing to my own choir. Meaning that most of the people who regularly watch PBS would be my constituency anyway — predominantly middle- and upper-class, higher-educated Democrats who feel guilty watching TV unless it’s Masterpiece Theatre or The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.
Still and all, it was a very good TV night on the campaign trail. I just wish there had been more of them.
CHAPTER 35: Me and Bill Clinton, Part III
I also want to say a special word of appreciation to Peter Navarro, who is running for Congress, and I want you to help him get elected. Stand up, Peter.
— President Bill Clinton
In September, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the second and final debate would be held on October 16 in San Diego. At my campaign headquarters, this news was met with elation because it opened the door to three great presidential gilts.
First, the debate would bring celebrity pundits like Cokie Roberts and George Will and David Broder swarming into my little town, and if they were worth their salt, they’d do sidebars on my race. This would further boost my campaign’s profile down the home stretch and give a turbocharge to my fund-raising and vote-getting efforts.
Second, where there would be a Clinton-Dole debate there would also be a Clinton rally; and that meant a great opportunity to get up onstage with the president. What my campaign consultants were really hoping for was a chance to “script" Clinton during this rally so that his remarks could be used for our final “Clinton hug” TV commercial.
Last but not least, we wanted the president to host a quick “grip and grin” fund-raiser to bring in a badly needed $50,000 to help pay for our "Bulldoze Bilbray” direct-mail piece. This piece was about to be sacrificed on the altar of budget constraints, but it was critical to our message. Indeed, it looked to be the only way we would be able to shine a bright light on my opponent’s extremist record.
Well, a quarter of a loaf is better than none. Because what we wound up getting was not the whole national press corps but rather a “microwave” visit by David Broder — 90 seconds and he was gone. More importantly, we did get the Clinton-hug TV commercial — but not quite the way we expected. And that mountain of $50,000 in cash turned into a molehill of only ten grand.
Doing the Macarena
The Clinton rally was held at the Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park — the perfect venue for 5000 cheering Democrats. It’s outdoors, it’s beautiful, and it was all paid for by taxpayers.
The concept for the rally was equally perfect: Prior to the Clinton-Dole debate, which was being held a few miles away, a number of politicians, including yours truly, would provide the crowd with speeches and pep talks. Then we would all watch the debate together on big, wide screens brought in for the event. Immediately after the debate, the president and first lady would take a limo to the rally, hopefully with Bob Dole’s head on a presidential platter.
Logistically, there were two critical things that had to be done to make the rally a success for our campaign. The first was for me to be featured prominently on the speakers’ list and given ample time to deliver a speech. The second was to somehow get the president a copy of the text we wanted him to read for the TV commercial.
The first task proved to be easy, and while I may not have given quite my best speech of the campaign — that would come later with Hillary — I did manage to tell my very best joke. It went something like this:
"I really want to thank the White House for all the advice and help it has given me in this important campaign. Perhaps the most valuable lesson is the one Al Gore gave me several months ago at the Democratic National Convention. After his wonderful speech, he invited me up to his suite with him and Tipper and he taught me how to do the Macarena. You want me to show you? [Big yell from the crowd YES! and a long pause in which I stand as stiff as Al Gore.] Want me to show you again? [Big laugh]"
Boy, did I have fun doing that! But Clinton’s speech at the rally didn't go as well — at least not for my purposes. While I managed to slip him an index card with our Clinton-hug script written on it (as one of his aides had instructed me to do), the card got lost in the shuffle. As a result, there was no full-blown “Clinton hug” but merely the weak kiss-your-mother-in-law-on-the-cheek quote that leads this chapter.
Now, that was a disappointment — but, as it would soon turn out, only a temporary one. Because after the rally, I managed to crash the post-debate parry hosted by Larry Lawrence’s widow and mega-Democratic donor, Shelia Davis Lawrence. My fund-raiser Kerry Martin and campaign manager Dale "Kelly Bankhead had spent several weeks trying unsuccessfully to get me into that big Democratic bash — the hottest ticket in town — because they thought it would be yet another fine place for me to raise money.
Well, so what if I wasn't on the guest list, I went anyway. All I had to do was get through the ring of Secret Service agents surrounding Shelia's Crown Manor, and that was easy. I just found one of the guys who had seen me onstage with the president and, voila, I was in. That’s where I met George Stephanopoulos and solved one big problem. I also met Chris Dodd and almost solved another.
In Rome the Night Before Its Fall
Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) is an elegant, ebullient personality, just the kind of Gentlemen's Quarterly sophisticate you would expect to represent a state crammed with suave corporate titans and fabulously rich suburban Wall Street commuters. And the savy Dodd knows how the political game is played, so our conversation was short and sweet.
Dodd asked me how my campaign was doing, I told him I needed to raise another quick $100,000 to win, he said he would help me do it, and he instructed an aide to make sure it happened. I think it actually would have happened — if several days later the John Huang fund raising scandal hadn’t blown up in Dodd’s face.
The scandal involved the alleged illegal soliciting of millions of dollars in campaign contributions by Huang from foreign interests — including a million dollars from Indonesia’s shadowy Riady family. At the time, Huang was a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and while that was bad, the worst part of the affair was that the DNC tried to hide Huang’s shenanigans by refusing to file an incriminating financial report with the Federal Election Commission just a few weeks before the election. Of course, the guy who had to explain all this totally inexplicable chicanery was Chris Dodd, the co-chairman of the DNC.
Talk about a public-relations disaster for the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign! While Dodd backpedaled and sidestepped and ultimately twisted in the wind for several weeks on Face the Nation and CNN and the evening news, Clinton began a free fall that would continue all the way to Election Day — a free fall, by the way, that would wipe out any coattails that the president might have for candidates like me.
To say this affair was mishandled by Dodd and the DNC is to say that the captain of the Exxon Valdez had a small oil spill. But when I met Dodd on that calm night there was nothing to suggest that the helping hand he was generously offering me was about to be brutally chopped off at the armpit.
Fortunately for me, the same fate did not befall the Tom Cruise of the Clinton administration, the charismatic and charming George Stephanopoulos. When I told Stephanopoulos just how disappointed I had been at the rally that evening because we hadn't gotten any decent video footage for our Clinton-hug ad. Stephanopoulos kindly offered to intercede with the president on my behalf. Within the week, the president was scheduled to spend the better part of a day taping commercials for a few candidates around the country, and Stephanopoulos promised that he would try to get the president to do an ad for us. This was a promise I am happy to report that Stephanopoulos kept.
For the remainder of the evening, I drank Shelia Lawrence’s fine wine and ate her magnificent food, I left Crown Manor a happy man — all the more dated because in the morning the president himself would be hosting a fund-raiser for my campaign at the nearby Hotel del Coronado.
Desperately Seeking Dollars
I got to the Hotel Del bright and early the next morning, still wired by the excitement of the night before. It’s times like this that make campaigning addictive. Never mind that I had been holed up for the better part of the last five months driving myself bananas begging people for money. Now, it was showtime, and this was going to be fun!
As early as I was, my campaign manager Dale Kelly Bankhead was in the hotel lobby even earlier. It wasn’t her duty or place to be there — it was my fund-raiser’s job — but this was an opportunity to get in a photo line with the Prez, and how could I refuse her?
The format for the fund-raiser was a quick “Ten for Ten” photo line. Because of time constraints, this format had been decreed by the White House in lieu of a more elaborate “coffee” at somebody’s home. The difference would be that rather than raise $50,000 as I could have with a more extended visit, I would only raise $10,000 — a thousand per head, or Ten for Ten.
Each of the ten donors allowed to attend would literally stand in a line extending from the door of the hotel to the presidential limousine. The president would walk and talk and photo op his way down that line — and it would all be over and done with in ten minutes — or so, at least, poor Leon Panetta hoped.
Most of the donors for this event were from the Indian community. They had been recruited by Ashok Batte, the fellow whom I had met at a previous Clinton fund-raiser in Hollywood; but all would not go smoothly. The first sign of trouble came when one of Ashok’s donors arrived without his checkbook. This did not come as a surprise to me because Noah Mamet, who had perused my guest list, had warned me about this fellow. Seems that this Gentleman had tried to crash an earlier presidential party with the same excuse.
A little East-West diplomacy ensued. Dale informed the Gentleman that regrettably he could not attend the event without paying, he insisted that he was good for the money, and she held firm until another guest showed up and offered to front the money for the Gentleman. This seemed to be an acceptable compromise, but the trouble didn’t end there.
As Dale and I stood haggling with the Gentleman like merchants in a rug bazaar, the rest of the group was whisked away to the secret meeting area by the Secret Service. When Dale and I turned around, everyone was gone. It was a Three Stooges moment as the three of us — Dale, me, and the Gentleman — ran around frantically trying to find the group, This was no small task in the cavernous Hotel Del.
However, there was even more trouble after we found everybody. What happened was the Gentleman’s wife pulled out a camera from her purse as everyone was forming the photo-op line. This was a serious breach of etiquette and security, and it really ticked Dale off. Indeed, Dale had given everyone explicit instructions: No personal cameras. You just don’t point stuff like that at the president. Only the presidential photographer has that right.
Well, it took another ten minutes of haggling until Mrs. Gentleman agreed to put the camera away, but sure enough, as soon as the president approached the line, out it came again. I’ll tell you in a minute why I got the last laugh on the Gentleman family, but first there is this:
One of the things I love about President Clinton is his uncanny ability to enter your space and create for you a perfectly timeless moment. This is what he did for two of my favorite people on the campaign trail, Doctors Sam Bozette and Carla Stayboldt. This married couple had been very helpful to me throughout the campaign, and Carla had been particularly persistent in persuading the College of American Pathologists to send me a generous PAG donation. Sam and Carla had also held a fund-raiser at their house for me, and both gave me the maximum donation.
What Clinton did is to engage them in a sincere dialogue about medical-industry reform — one of Carla’s passions. Moreover, Clinton did so while a limousine and a helicopter sat idling and a few thousand people stood waiting a hundred miles away at his next stop.
The best part of the moment — indeed, the comic part — was about halfway through this impromptu policy discussion when a frazzled Leon Panetta, pointing frantically at his watch, tried to catch Clinton’s eye. When that failed, the desperate Panetta moved in close and tugged on the presidential sleeve — like an impatient child trying to get Daddy’s attention. It was great theater and all the more so because it put into much better perspective why the president is chronically late. It’s not because he’s lazy or a screwup but that he stops to smell the roses. In my book, that’s okay, and, hey, if the president can’t do that, well, who can?
When the discussion finally ended, I walked with the president to the limo, thanked him profusely, waved at Chris Dodd in the back seat, who once again assured me that he would help, and then off everybody went on their campaign way. It had been a great day, and it wasn’t even 9:00 a.m.
The postscript to this is that nobody ever got any pictures from the event. I don’t know why, but I do know this: After the election, the investigation into the illegal fund-raising practices of the White House and the Democratic National Committee escalated significantly. The tabloid press published a number of embarrassing photos. These photos, taken at fund-raisers, showed Clinton or Gore shaking hands with everyone from convicted Chinese arms dealers to Cuban cocaine smugglers.
My guess is that after several of these expletive-deleted photos got printed, the White House clamped down on the release of any more photos. So when the Gentleman called me repeatedly to demand his photos, all I could say was that I was very, very sorry. Right.
CHAPTER 36: The Bitter Endgame
Spock...I've found that evil usually triumphs — unless good is very, very careful.
— Dr. Leonard McCoy, Star Trek
Three days after the final Clinton-Dole debate and less than three weeks before Election Day, my campaign commercials finally hit the airwaves. Waiting for this media blitz was one of the longest waits of my life. This was because my opponent, Brian Bilbray, had gotten his TV commercials up aid running over a month earlier — stark testimony to the superior size of his campaign war chest.
Despite my excruciating wait, it had been a conscious decision by my strategic brain trust to “hold our powder dry” until the last few weeks. The basic rule in campaign TV, mon candidate, is that once you go up on the air, you must stay up. By and large, this is a good rule because the half-life of political commercials in the voters’ minds is just a few days; and the corollary to this “go up, stay up” rule is that there must be critical mass for your ad campaign. That is, your ads have to appear with enough frequency to break through to the voters’ consciousness — no mean feat when voters are being bombarded by a blizzard of ads from other candidates. Thus, for my given budget, I was far better off packing my ads into three weeks rather than running longer but thinner over a five- or six-week period — or so my campaign strategists believed.
Fortunately, the Bilbray camp had made our decision to wait somewhat easier by running our Apology ad for us. You may recall from an earlier chapter that this Bilbray ad used an excerpt from our UCSD debate. It showed me apologizing for negative campaigning in the mayor’s race. I would rank the Bilbray camp’s running that ad as their only real mistake of the campaign — and also as my best laugh.
Lou Grant Versus Jeopardy
In the TV battle for the hearts and minds of San Diego voters, Bilbray’s message was straightforward — as all campaign messages should be. He was the homeboy who had grown up in the district, the “independent” who would stand up to Newt, and the guy who had brought home the bacon and the pork to his district. In contrast, I was the mean and nasty carpetbagger whom you could not trust.
Bilbray’s brain trust delivered these messages in a simple fashion. In the homeboy commercial, they flashed images of him in surfer clothes (including a loud shirt that no San Diegan would be caught dead wearing east of Maui). In addition, there was footage of Bilbray in a suit doing this and Bilbray in a suit doing that. It was pedestrian stuff as campaign commercials go but effective at conveying the “Homeboy Fighting for Us in Washington” image.
To kneecap me, Bilbray used a more creative and visually clever Jeopardy-ripoff ad. It showed yours truly being flipped around faster than the pages in the Kama Sutra against a Jeopardy background, while a narrator recited the times I had moved and changed political parties over the last few years. (I regret to say that there were so many times, he could barely get it all in in 30 seconds.)
The first time I saw the Jeopardy ad it made me chuckle — which should have been a warning sign that it was going to be effective. As Victor Borge once observed, “Humor is the fastest distance between two people.” However, my second, more serious thought was that San Diegans really aren’t dumb enough to fall for the carpetbagger, party-switcher critique. What matters are public-policy issues such as Medicare, education, and the right to choose, right? (Sometimes, I am astonished at my own näiveté.)
By the way, my standing riposte to the Bilbray charge that I moved into the district just to run against him was this: “After looking at the Bilbray-Gingrich record, I got here just in time.” I thought that was funny — but apparently it was not funny enough.
The final ad in the Bilbray oeuvre was the obligatory “Hell Hath No Fury Susan Golding Cries Again” ad. While tears didn’t actually flow this time from the most famous tear ducts in San Diego’s political history — Nixon gets the national award — Golding’s eyes did glisten with just enough moisture to remind everyone that I had been mean and nasty to her in the mayor’s race.
Free Fall in Crimson
Our response to this solid if not brilliant ad campaign was an equally solid if not brilliant ad campaign — one, however, that rested much more uneasily upon, and ultimately sank into, the quicksand of changing public attitudes.
We led with Lou Grant. In this ad, Ed Asner’s mission was to frame the Bilbray-Navarro race as a referendum on Newt Gingrich, and as I have documented earlier, Asner did it with power and brilliance. It was the right message, but it came at the wrong time. This is because by that point in the campaign, the Republicans’ theme of divided government was already beginning to woo back many of the anti-Gingrichites.
Our second ad featured yours truly. At the beginning of the ad, I reaffirmed The Apology, and then I went on to portray myself as a member of the Clinton team who would fight to protect Medicare and the environment. By airtime, however, this, too, would be the wrong message because Bill Clinton, caught as he now was in the mother of all fund-raising scandals, had begun his free fall.
To make matters worse, Clinton’s free fall was most precipitous in San Diego and neighboring Orange County. This is because right after the Clinton-Dole debate, Republican strategists decided to bet the Dole farm on California. Dole obviously could not win the presidency without California, so the Dole campaign spent the lion’s share of its remaining TV budget wooing voters in the Golden State.
Most of this money was targeted toward the two populous and conservative counties south of predominantly Democratic Los Angeles. I’m talking about Orange and San Diego Counties, of course, and the result of Dole’s slash-and-burn ad campaign was devastating: Clinton would drop by more than 20 points in my little town and fall below 50 percent on Election Day. He would actually lose Orange County, where he had led substantially for months.
Unfortunately, our third ad further reinforced my attachment to Clinton at the precise time that a lot of people started to turn up their noses at him. This was the ad that George Stephanopouios helped us get. It starred the president himself appealing to the people of San Diego to elect Peter Navarro. Boy, did that ad switch off televisions in Clairemont.
The Missing Link
I had spent the better part of six months raising the $300,000 or so that we eventually spent on the television budget. While this may seem like a lot of money, it really is a paltry sum in a large media market like San Diego, where one 30-second ad on 60 Minutes an cost close to $8000.
The practical result of my budget constraint was that while we were able to deliver our positive messages, we didn’t have the funds to go negative. This, however, was necessary to complete the strategy dictated by our polling. Indeed, what was missing from our ad campaign was the shining of that bright light on Brian Bilbray’s extremist record. Ultimately, this is where Bilbray’s two-to-one funding advantage came in because while he spent a significant portion of his TV budget attacking me, our campaign was unable to lay a hand on him.
What I had hoped for from the start was that either the AFL-CIO or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (D-Triple-C) would run a barrage of negative ads on Bilbray. But big labor sat on the sidelines throughout the race, and the ads that the D-Triple-C eventually ran were largely ineffective. This is because both the creative aspects and the production quality of the ads were poor. Indeed, using these weak ads to attack Bilbray was like trying to drive a nail into a two-by-four with a plastic spoon.
In this bitter endgame, our last hope of getting the “Bilbray Is an Extremist” message across got sucked into the same vortex that brought down Senator Chris Dodd. Dodd is the one fellow who could have quickly helped me raise the extra money for our “Bilbray Bulldozes San Diego” booklet.
I rate the bulldozer cartoon booklet as one of my campaign consultant’s masterpieces. This is because Larry Remer so cleverly jujitsued Bilbray’s oft-repeated story about how the courageous Bilbray defied the federal government, got on a bulldozer, and closed the mouth of the Tijuana River to stop raw sewage from coming into his hometown.
The “Bilbray on a Bulldozer” image is as famous in San Diego as the Coca-Cola logo is in the Third World, and Remer’s booklet used that image to show Bilbray, page by page, bulldozing the environment, bulldozing education, bulldozing the right to choose, and bulldozing Medicare. I loved the artwork for this last page. The cartoon showed a demonic Bilbray running down frightened, screaming senior citizens with his careening bulldozer, while the caption addressed his anti-Medicare votes.
If we had had another hundred thousand dollars, as I had hoped to raise at the beginning of the campaign, we could have spun that cartoon booklet into a devastating TV ad as well — one that would have strongly reinforced the message of the several hundred thousand booklets we wanted to mail out. But as it was, all we could do was send out a few thousand of the booklets — a small drop in a large bucket.
In retrospect, I don’t think there was any message that could have won my race. By the last three weeks of the campaign, the foundation of the Democratic “Take Back the Congress" campaign had crumbled; and over those three weeks, Clinton’s coattails would not only shrink to nothing, but “hugging” Clinton would actually be a liability in the swing areas of my district like Clairemont. Nonetheless, if I had it to do over again, there are two fundamental things I would have changed in my TV campaign that might have made a difference.
First, I would have spent every penny of my TV budget laying out the voting record of Brian Bilbray in as much gory detail as indeed there was. This is called going “pure negative” in the trade, and in this campaign, I believe it was appropriate.
The problem in San Diego is that few voters know much about Bilbray other than that he’s an amiable surfer type capable of getting up on a bulldozer and fighting for the people. In this case, what they don’t know is certainly hurting them because Brian Bilbray not only does not represent the majority positions of the district, but given his meager education, he has about as much business writing complex federal legislation as Brooke Shields has doing comedy.
Second, and more importantly, I would not have waited until the final three weeks of the campaign to air my commercials. Instead, I would have begun running ads six weeks before the election and blown every penny running the commercials for three weeks. While that would have left me naked for the final three weeks of the campaign, it might also have driven Bilbray down far enough in the polls to persuade the cavalries of the AFL-CIO and the Democratic Party to come riding in to my rescue with big bucks.
In fact, such an early-strike strategy has been used effectively in many other campaigns, but it’s a heck of a gamble. In my race, however, I believe it would have been warranted. The reason: by not responding to the Bilbray ads early, we allowed him to build too strong a foundation for his message — one we could never even crack, much less crumble.
The Republican Rope-A-Dope Strategy
While we were holding our powder dry, so too were the Republicans. While Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour was highly criticized for doing so, his “rope-a-dope strategy” turned out to be as brilliant as when Muhammad Ali first used it to whip George Foreman.
In that strategy, Barbour let big labor and the Democratic Party pummel many of the Republican Party’s most vulnerable members right up until the last few weeks of the election. However, when Barbour finally unleashed the superior resources of his party, it was like the hot knife of Norman Schwarzkopf's blitzkrieg cutting through the butter of the Iraqi Army. In a blizzard of TV commercials and direct mail, Barbour and the RNC crushed any last vestige of hope that the Democrats had in the vast majority of the contested congressional races.
Nor would I go unscathed in this attack as the RNC pumped tens of thousands of dollars into the final days of the Bilbray campaign. It was like an injection of embalming fluid right into my veins, even though for all practical purposes, my coffin was already sealed, and my campaign was long dead and buried.
CHAPTER 37: Me and Hillary
If you vote for yourself and you vote for your future, you will vote to send Peter Navarro to Congress and to reelect President Clinton for the next four years.
— Hillary Rodham Clinton
On the Saturday before the election. Hillary Clinton came to town to host a "Navarro for Congress" love-in before 3000 screaming fans. On the Monday before the election, right-wing radio talk-show host Roger Hedgecock moderated a Bilbray-Navarro slugfest before 300 flaming assholes. If you guessed I had more fun with Hillary, you’re right.
The Hillary event was pure serendipity — sweet manna from heaven. For once in my congressional campaign, something good came from the Democratic Party that I didn’t have to beg for. At least, I think it was good, because, as you will soon see, my campaign consultant would strongly disagree with that.
My campaign manager Dale Kelly Bankhead, who happens to be a charter member of the Hillary Fanatics Club, got the call of her life from the White House. Seems that Bill, Al, and Hillary were scouring the country for congressional candidates to help in the final days of the campaign, and since Bill and Al had already been in town for me, it was Hillary’s turn. Would we like her to come for a rally and fund-raiser?
Upon hearing this news, Dale broke into a grin wide enough to split lips. Soon thereafter, she went about the business of organizing the event, and she did it with all the frenzy of a tornado bearing down on a trailer park. The biggest part of her task was to help fill the auditorium to overflowing — it would be a disaster to play to empty seats — and we had only a few days to make it happen.
It happened. And then some. And it helped that the Hillary gig was held in friendly, densely populated Democratic terrain, namely the University of California at San Diego campus. So it was that on that Saturday afternoon, the doors to the RIMAC Arena opened, and rabid Hillary partisans marched in faster than ants into a picnic basket.
I’m happy to report that I walked the aisles and shook just about every hand in that very full house. It was a good thing I did too, because two of the hands that I didn't shake belonged to two Bilbray supporters who had come to heckle me. As hecklers go, these guys were pretty dumb. When I tried to shake hands with them, they blew their cover by offering me a duet of sneers and snide remarks. That’s when Ralph Santora, my bodyguard and otherwise guy Friday, took over.
Guys like Ralphie are great to have on a campaign because they are as smart as they are fearless. Ralphie had been jobbed out to me as a contribution in kind by Independent Action, a Washington-based PAC dedicated solely to helping elect Democrats to first terms in Congress. And Ralphie had brought a vast wealth of experience to my campaign. This seasoned veteran also brought calm and order to my mostly rookie staff.
So here’s how Ralph, at 5'8", handled these two 6'3" football-player cheeseheads. He walked up to them like Clint Eastwood and gave ’em Dirty Harry: “You gentlemen have a right to be here, but the first time you raise your voices in this auditorium, you’ll be out of here on your asses.... Make my day.” Ralphie then got two Secret Service agents to shadow them, and true to his word, when these gentlemen started heckling me at the beginning of my speech, they were out on their rear ends within seconds. Good job, Ralphie.
Another Ten for Ten
After working the crowd, I left the main arena and went back to the room where the first lady was doing a Ten for Ten fundraiser similar to the one the president had done for me a few weeks before at the Hotel Del. The drill was the same: I had invited ten donors at a thousand dollars a pop to rub elbows and get their pictures taken with Hillary.
The room where this photo shoot was being held was an institutional gray box with all the ambiance of the mess hall at Folsom prison. The only things in the place that lent it any class at all were a set of flags and a black velvet background for the photo shoot.
I came in in the middle of the flashbulbs going off and just lay back and let Hillary do her thing with my donors. Mean-while, ex-Congresswoman Lynn Schenk and Hollywood celebrity Christine Latte warmed up the crowd in the auditorium. This warm-up was happening, mind you, while the usually biggest ham of any political moment, Hemorrhoid Bob Filner, sat slumped in a chair onstage virtually speechless. He was right where he could do me no harm — on crutches, in excruciating back pain, and too zoned out on painkillers to try to steal the spotlight.
After the Ten for Ten and before Hillary and I walked from the fund-raising room down the long corridor out to the stage, we had a fine few minutes together. I don’t know why so many people in America hate Hillary Clinton; I found her to be one of the most gracious, intelligent, perceptive, and, yes, classy women I have ever met.
Okay, so she doesn’t like to bake cookies and she screwed up health-care reform, and this “uppity woman’’ has made it all too clear to Middle America that she’d rather be an activist first lady than rearrange White House furniture like Jackie O or stand in the shadows like Barbara Bush. But so what? This is the dawn of the 21st Century. Isn’t it?
In the few minutes that Hillary and I spent together we talked about our races. She asked me candidly how “we” — meaning she and Bill — were doing, and I answered just as candidly that Bill had been in a free fall in Southern California since coming here three weeks before for the presidential debate.
The biggest problem, which I didn’t tell her about, was the monumentally stupid remark her hubby Bill had made on MTV about experimenting with marijuana. The Republicans had turned that intemperate utterance into a devastating TV commercial. It not only reinforced Clinton’s freewheeling, draft-dodging hippie roots, but it made him look (yet again, I’m sad to say) like an opportunist who would say whatever an audience might want to hear. Put him on MTV in front of a group of teenagers and he’d say smoking dope was okay, just as quickly as he would condemn drug use among teens at a cop convention or extramarital sex at a Baptist revival.
But I spared Hillary that trenchant observation and instead remarked that while I saw Bill’s coattails growing shorter by the day, I had no doubt the Clinton-Gore team would win — even if I had great doubt that I would. At least for the next hour onstage, it was a doubt that was erased.
Walking up to the podium before that cheering crowd, I felt like the Pope in Buenos Aires, Larry Bird in the Boston Garden, and Billy Graham in Oklahoma all rolled into one. What a thrill it is to give a speech to a crowd that roars with approval at your every utterance!
However, as with the Ed Asner ad, I’m still uncertain whether the Hillary rally increased or decreased my vote total on Election Day. What makes me uncertain is that my archenemy, the San Diego Union-Tribune, published a great story about the rally, and it printed one of the nicest pictures I’ve ever had taken of me. The darn thing was right on the front page of the local section in living color for all of their readers to see. In that picture, Hillary and I stand together applauding the crowd, exuding an almost cherubic warmth that, frankly, tends to elude as both — tough analytical types that we are.
Dale was so excited about the photo and the Union-Tribune's favorable coverage that she called me up at dawn the next morning and chirped, “You just gotta see this!” And looking at the story, I thought for once, just one time, the Union-Tribune had done me a favor by reporting the story fairly — as the event happened and with the appropriate emphasis that a visit by the first lady should have.
That pleasant thought lasted all of about five minutes, until I got my next call, and it caused me to second guess the Hillary venture. That call was from my campaign consultant Larry Remer, who was not grateful for the newspaper’s generosity, but rather in awe of its treachery and deviousness.
As Larry saw it: Of course, the Union-Tribune wouldn’t write a story about Vice President Al Gore’s visit in July to raise money for Peter Navarro. Everybody loves lovable Al. But feminist won’t-bake-me-any-cookies Hillary — the first lady everybody loves to hate? That’s a different story — literally.
Yep. Larry could just see the U-T editors gleefully pasting the picture of me and Hillary' onto their front page and thinking, “Wow, the only thing better than this would have been a shot of Navarro arm-in-arm with Jesse Jackson or Fidel Castro.”
I Love Hate Radio, Part Deux
While the Hillary rally was a heavenly experience, my debate with ' Brian Bilbray on The Roger Hedgecock Show came about as close to a fistfighting, brawling hell as you can get. The near nuclear meltdown had its origins in the debate setting: Rather than have Bilbray and me go toe-to-toe alone with him in his cramped studio, the “radio mayor” held the live-broadcast debate in a large bar in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Unfortunately, Bilbray’s people got there by 9:00 a.m. to occupy every table and chair in the place for the noon debate. But this was not to say that I was without troops. Because my once-again savior Kalphie put together a SWAT team to handle the unruly and ill-mannered crowd. This team consisted of Ralphie, my field coordinator Tom Husted, my fund-raiser Kerry Martin, and Norm Lamphear, one of my most trusted field operatives.
Believing that the best defense is a good offense, Ralphie had everybody wear referee shirts and whistles so that the minute Bilbray attacked me on the air, they would all blow their whistles and call a “personal foul” on Bilbray. This stunt dovetailed nicely with a “Bilbray Fouls Navarro” ad that we had started running in response to Bilbray’s attack ads. We hoped that if there were any coverage of the debate, the press would reinforce the message of that ad. More importantly, Ralphie also believed — as it would turn out, correctly — that this stunt would not only throw Bilbray off his stride but also silence his attacks completely after the first foul was called.
As I had done at the Hillary event, I got to the debate early and worked the room, introducing myself to and shaking hands with everybody. I like to do that even when — indeed, especially when — everyone in the room is hostile, as they certainly were that day. I figure that if I have that personal contact even with my enemies, when push comes to shove — as it, in fact, literally did—at least some of the folks might be just a little less inclined to go ballistic.
As for the debate, what can I say? Hedgecock was as sweet to me off the air as he was a prick to me on the air, while Bilbray did his usual right-wing rant. The defining moment of the melange came early, the first time Bilbray attacked me. That’s when Ralphie and the gang blew their whistles and shouted, “Personal foul! Personal foul! Personal foul!”
Hedgecock totally freaked, Bilbray was totally baffled, and all hell broke loose in the room as Bilbray’s people figured out what we were doing. At that point, several of Bilbray’s storm troopers confronted our crew, but all Ralphie did was blow his whistle, jump up and down, and call Personal foul! on them.
It was a tense and hilarious moment, and the only thing missing was Geraldo jumping in to break it up and get his nose broken again. But Ralphie wouldn’t back down from Bilbray’s goons and neither would Tom Husted, who is as close in size to an NFL fullback as a nice boy from Maine can be.
Faced with these immovable objects, the Bilbray brigade first blinked and then turned into pussycats as Hedgecock shouted for everybody to calm down and sit down. After that, the rest was anticlimactic. Ralphie had de-neutered both Bilbray and the crowd and put Hedgecock on notice that we wouldn’t put up with any of his crap, and I got out of there with minimal damage. Way to go, Ralphie!
CHAPTER 38: Judgment Day
Politics are almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics many times.
— Winston Churchill
Happy election days are all alike. You win, and you feel great doing it. This, however, was not going to be one of those happy days. I could feel it like a bitter bile in my throat from the moment I woke up. But just like Sisyphus and Adlai Stevenson, I got out of bed anyway to go push one more boulder up the electoral hill.
The first task of that day was to greet the troops gathering at campaign headquarters. Our headquarters had been chosen by the Clinton-Gore coordinated campaign as one of the staging areas from which to send volunteers out into the field.
On Election Day, the name of the game is “GO-TV” — get out the vote. The GO-TV strategy starts with compiling a list of targeted supporters that the GO-TV operation will try to get to the polls that day. The voter contact involves sending one set of volunteers into the precincts to knock on doors, another set to concentrate on phone banking, and a third set of poll watchers to monitor who has and hasn’t voted.
Poll watchers accomplish this last critical task by comparing the campaign’s target list to the list of who has already voted, which is posted on an hourly basis at each polling station. A good poll-watching operation is the heart and soul of an effective GO-TV operation because it steadily whittles down the target list to call as the day progresses. This saves unnecessary phone calls to people who have already cast their ballots and allows the ground operation to focus like a laser beam on those who haven’t yet voted.
The biggest obstacle facing our GO-TV operation that day would be the impending Clinton victory. The fear was that as soon as a TV station projected Bill to be the winner, the flood of Democrats to the polls would drop to a trickle. Since my race could only be won with a high Democratic turnout — Democrats vote in a higher proportion as voter turnout rises — this “Projected Winner Effect” would be disastrous to my chances of winning, particularly if the projection of victory came early in the California afternoon.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened. For on this day, voter turnout would be almost 15 percent lower than it had been four years before when Bill Clinton and Lynn Schenk had rolled to victory. In my case, this falloff in Democrats voting would be enough to turn what might have been just another close but honorable defeat into an embarrassing butt-kicking.
But as I drove into the headquarters parking lot, I still harbored the illusion that when I lost, it wouldn’t be by much, and, in fact, I was heartened by the volunteer turnout because the place was jammed. Hundreds of folks were milling about waiting for marching orders, and amid the greasy donuts and cheap coffee, the mood was festive.
The Uncoordinated Campaign
The guy in charge of spitting out voter-contact lists on the computer was Vince Hall. Vince had previously worked for many years as Bob Filner’s chief of staff, and he had only gotten the job working for the Clinton-Gore coordinated campaign after Congressman Bob Filner had heavily lobbied for him. My obvious concern — shared by my campaign manager — was that Vince would quietly divert resources away from the Triple Overlap and into Filner’s safe congressional district.
As I have detailed in an earlier chapter, the Triple Overlap was the key to both my victory and the broader strategy of the Democratic Party. This Triple Overlap was the geographical area where my race, Dede Alpert’s state senate race, and the two assembly seats pursued by Susan Davis and Howard Wayne would be hotly contested. It is where the balance of power in the Congress and the California State Legislature might well be determined, and it also was the key to ensuring a Clinton victory in San Diego County.
Despite the strategic importance of the Triple Overlap, I can’t say I was really surprised when I found out that Vince Hall and Bob Filner had apparently played one last trick on us. What Vince did — although he would later blame it on a computer error — was to include in the phone-bank lists lots of Democrats outside the Triple Overlap — Democrats who just happened to be from Filner’s district.
It was my field coordinator Tom Husted who first discovered this perfidy because Tom was familiar with Filner’s turf, having worked it in an earlier campaign. He about went through the roof when he found out, and it’s easy to understand why because it was a really stupid or selfish thing for Vince to do. Stupid if it was an honest computer mistake. Selfish if Vince did it on purpose. Diverting even one single vote from the critical Triple Overlap area to pad Filner’s landslide served nobody’s purpose but the Republicans’.
Love Those Photo Ops
Typically, on Election Day, the TV news crews like to meet a candidate at his or her polling booth to get the day’s photo opportunity. However, I thought it would be far better for TV viewers to catch their last glimpse of me that day knee-deep in grassroots politics, so we invited the press to this GO-TV kickoff. It turned out to be a great photo op and a rousing success as I sent off hundreds of volunteers to do battle with the Gingrich monster.
Once the volunteers were dispersed, my job was to touch base with as many of the remote phone-bank locations as possible. The goal was to pat the volunteers on the back, make some phone calls myself to further boost morale, and then move on to the next base of operation.
It was a frenetic day, and the only part I didn't like was the downtime I had in the car moving from one point to another, listening to the radio drumbeat of the impending Clinton victory. Because I knew that every time that victory got mentioned on the radio, another 1000 Democrats would stay home and not vote.
By the way, my fellow Americans, wouldn’t it be a whole lot better if we adopted the Canadian model for Election Day and put a muzzle on Dan Rather and Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw until the polls are closed everywhere in the country. I mean, it’s bad enough that Californians have to put up with the presidential candidates being chosen in places like New Hampshire and North Carolina. But just because the polls close three hours later on the West Coast doesn’t mean we should be told who is going to win our elections before we even have a chance to vote. And screw you civil libertarians who disagree with me on this and want to protect Dan Rather’s right to declare Bill Clinton the winner whenever he damn well pleases. This is not a good thing for democracy'. Glad I got that off my chest.
At any rate, by 7:30 that night, I finally made my way back to campaign headquarters. I made my last call of the evening at 7:45 hoping to get one last laggard to the polls before 8:00, and at 8:00, 1 looked up at everyone in the headquarters and made a toast to victory. Then I went home for a quick nap, hoping I wouldn’t wake up to a nightmare.
CHAPTER 39: Republican Nation
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.
— W.C. Fields
Forty-five minutes after the polls had closed, I knew that I was going to get blown out. That’s when the first absentee ballot results were posted, and I was already behind by 20 or so points. While people who vote absentee in California are disproportionately older and conservative and therefore tend to vote in greater numbers for Republicans, there was still no way I would be able to overcome such a huge disadvantage from the more I democrat-friendly electorate that shows up on Election Day.
Looking at those results on the boob tube, it was one year of very hard work compressed into five seconds of heart-wrenching, gut-churning, ego-smashing pain. Not the loss, mind you. I’m used to that. No. The real shock was how badly I was going to be beaten. This had never happened to me before in my previous three races. These had been narrow, hold-your-head-up-high losses — not a 53 to 42 percent pants-down spanking.
Of course, I can blame a lot of things for this embarrassing rout: a low Democratic voter turnout; Clinton’s free fall in San Diego, which significantly shortened his coattails; my two-to-one funding disadvantage; the failure of the AFL-CIO’s $32 million ad campaign to target my opponent; the clever “divided government” strategy of the Republicans, which overpowered the Democrats’ “Take Back the House from Gingrich” theme; the biased coverage of the San Diego Union-Tribune; and even the treachery of Hemorrhoid Bob Filner.
Ultimately, however, I have to look in the mirror and be honest with myself: I lost the race because I had run too many times and offended too many people in the process. As a result, I was never able to do the only thing I have ever wanted to do in politics — fight for issues that really matter, a sound economy, a clean environment, a solid education system, and fundamental fairness in our courts, our workplaces, and our neighborhoods.
But rather than a great debate over Great Ideas, the race came down to personalities. And after three previous losing races, it was easy fix Bilbray’s brain trust to successfully reinforce the negative knocks already on me: the “carpetbagger,” the “opportunist,” and, perhaps worst of all now, the “perennial loser.” I say “worst of all” because at one point I came within a few percentage points of being on top of San Diego’s political world — and it’s been a long, tough slide down ever since.
The Triumph of Incumbency
My self-flagellation notwithstanding, statistically I didn’t have much of a chance of winning anyway. The rising tide of disgust that was supposed to wash Newt Gingrich and his zealots away peaked and began to recede months before the election.
More broadly, this election outcome has proved to me beyond any shadow of a doubt that our political process is broken beyond repair. The overriding problem is obvious: Statistically, the candidate with the most money — usually the incumbent — will win a seat for Congress over 95 percent of the time. Since, on average. Republicans have a 60 percent handing advantage over their Democratic challengers and since Republicans are now firmly in control of Congress, these statistics are a recipe for the status quo, which is to say, a very Republican nation. Let’s look at the facts.
Of the 73 Republican freshman elected in 1994, only 12 were defeated in the 1996 cycle. Of those 12, 5 freshman Republicans beat themselves, while a sixth never really had a prayer of hanging onto his seat.
The prayerless one was Michael Patrick Flanagan who, in a fluke, had beaten Dan Rostenkowski after Rosti got indicted. But the Chicago district that Flanagan represented was heavily Democratic, and he inevitably got hammered 64 to 36 percent when a guy in pinstripes rather than prison stripes showed up to challenge him.
As for the five who beat themselves, three were total wackos. The Wacko Supreme had to be Andrea Seastrand of Santa Barbara who, among other foot-in-the-mouthers, insinuated that God was punishing California with earthquakes because the people of the Golden State had sinned. She was knocked off 48 to 44 percent by a guy with at least one foot on the ground, (the now deceased) Walter Capps.
Then there was the Grand Dragon of Wackos, Steve Stockman of Texas, who ranted at Attorney General Janet Reno about her harassment of right-wing militia, while third place in the Wacko Sweepstakes belonged to Fred Heineman of North Carolina. Heineman groused publicly that his $133,600 congressional salary and $50,000 police pension made him “lower middle class” and described the true middle class as people “making anywhere from $300,000 to $750,000 a year.” “Earth to Fred” was the tag line of one ad that the ultimate winner, David Price, used to box Heineman’s ears 54 to 44 percent.
As for the two other freshman Republicans who beat themselves, blame their losses on an old congressional standby, moral turpitude. One guy — David Funderburk of North Carolina — ran a car off the road in an accident that injured three people, drove around the block, and then came back with his wife at the wheel, or so witnesses say. The other guy, Jim Bunn of Oregon, divorced his wife and married his 31-year-old chief of staff, whom he was paying close to $100,000 a year. For some reason, voters don’t like stuff like that.
That leaves only 6 out of 73 Republican freshman — a mere 8 percent — that the combined forces of the Democratic Party, the AFL-CIO, and the Sierra Club were able to knock off. But even with those six races, there is little to suggest that such successes will be easily repeated.
For example, when Carolyn McCarthy beat Dan Frisa in Long Island, New York, it was largely because McCarthy had risen to the ranks of media superstar as a result of the terrible tragedy she had suffered. She had been a Republican and a nurse when her husband had been gunned down in the Long Island Massacre. Disgusted with Frisa’s refusal to vote for an assault-weapons ban, McCarthy angrily switched parties and proceeded to kick Frisa’s butt. But how many candidates can bring that story to the table?
Similarly, when Democrat Adam Smith of Washington knocked off Randy Tate, it was in large part because Smith poured so much of his own money into the race. If, however, it comes down to the battle of the wealthy candidates, the Republicans are always going to have more troops.
My point is that despite a lot of anti-Gingrich rhetoric and a huge national effort to defeat his loyalists, that defeat never happened. Instead, I became one of 61 lambs led to the Gingrich slaughter — an 84 percent failure rate for the Democratic Party machine against the 73 freshman.
Today, this deteriorating situation for the Democrats is further compounded by the ongoing exodus of senior Democrats from the House and Senate — many of whom are leaving because they know they will never chair another committee or otherwise enjoy the power they once had. While these Democratic incumbents would have a lock on reelection, exposing their seats to challenge will give Republicans a great opportunity.
A case in point is Vic Fazio. In the wake of Walter Capps’s untimely death, Fazio announced his retirement to “go smell the roses.” His seat will almost certainly fall into Republican hands. The same may well be true of the House seats of retiring lee Hamilton of Indiana and Oregon’s Elizabeth Furse as well as the soon-to-be-open Senate seats of Ohio’s John Glenn, Arkansas’s Dale Bumpers, and Kentucky’s Wendell Ford.
The bottom line is that in 1998, the Republicans will likely pick up another 10 to 20 seats in the House, further pad their lead in the Senate, and put control of the Congress by the Democratic Party out of reach until at least the year 2020. Thus, for at least the next couple of decades, we are going to have to live in a Republican nation that obeys not the dictates of wise and thoughtful men such as Adam Smith, John Adams, and Edmund Burke but rather of buffoons, sociopaths, and zealots like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Ralph Reed.
Divided We Stand (Pat)
All this might not be so bad if the Democrats were to hold on to the White House during this Republican period. While such a divided government is prone to gridlock and partisan confrontation, a Democratic presidential veto should be able to hold the dogs of Newt Gingrich at bay. The day, however, that the Republicans seize the White House will be the day that the Gingrich agenda finally works its way into law. This is not a day most Americans should look forward to.
Take the flat tax, for example. It is one of the most elementary insights in economics that if you replace our currently progressive income tax with a flat tax and try to raise the same amount of tax revenues, rich people will pay a lot less in taxes and the poor and middle class will pay a lot more. Why does this idea appeal to the 70 percent or more of the populace that would simply get the Steve Forbes screw?
And what about the environment? I get nauseated listening to demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Roger Hedgecock who think that global warming is just a liberal ruse to shut down industry. This is the frigging planet we’re talking about, guys. And while we’re discussing the planet, do we really have to keep killing off species at the rate of thousands per year? Do we really have to chop down every old-growth forest and bulldoze every wetland and turn hundreds of thousands of acres of our prime farmland into subdivisions? Where’s Teddy Roosevelt when you need him?
As for Medicare and Social Security, forget it. The Republicans will let the old people eat cake and the young people set up private retirement accounts, and whoever falls through the cracks deserves it.
As for a woman’s right to choose, forget that too. We’ll go right back to the days of coat hangers and back-alley abortions.
On top of all this, as labor unions fall further and further into decline, as more of our manufacturing base is exported to low-wage countries like China and Mexico, and as more and more mergers create more and more monopolies, corporate America will continue to suppress wages and reduce benefits while turning record profits. What could be more Republican than that?
If you’re wondering if this rant is leading up to an impassioned plea for campaign finance reform, forget that too. I won’t waste my breath. Because pigs will fly before either a Republican or a Democratic Congress will change the rules such that entrenched incumbents would lose power. As one of my mentors at Harvard said, “If I tell you how things are. I’ve told you why things can’t change.”
Chapter 40: Zen and the Art of Running for Congress
A good day ain’t got no rain. A bad day is when I lie in bed and think of things that might have been.
— Paul Simon
As I write these final words more than a year now from the election, my healing process is almost complete. But there’s been a lot to get over — all the way back to my first run for political office.
On that bright, sunny day in 1992 when I declared my candidacy for mayor, I had a fine reputation, a solid marriage, a spacious home, a new car, and a net worth of almost a million dollars. Today, after losing four political races, at least half the people in San Diego think I’m a jerk, a carpetbagger, a criminal, or worse. I’m divorced and living in a place the size of a postage stamp. I owe various people and credit card companies well over $100,000. And I drive an old beat-up Volvo with almost 200,000 miles on its odometer.
The best part about driving the Volvo is that I don’t have to worry about anyone scratching the finish; there isn’t any finish left. The worst part about driving the Volvo is not the broken air conditioning, the slipping transmission, the cracked windshield, the right back window that won’t open, or the sunroof that won’t close. Nope. The worst part is that only the AM band of the radio works.
Given my aversion to rightwing hate radio — which is about all you can get now on the AM dial — this is perhaps the crudest post-election joke on me. Nonetheless, I’ve adapted. I listen to sports talk. My favorite athletic supporter is Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton, who could make a badminton match sound exciting, and when I want to hear sports in a totally foreign language I tune into Jim Rome’s The Jungle.
Despite the U-turn in my fortune, I’m mostly happy. I’m involved in a very nice relationship with a woman who has two fluffy cats who love to eat cantaloupe and sit on my computer keyboard. She’s raising a young son, and it has been interesting to experience some of the pleasures and pain of parenting. Fortunately, the lad is a good boy, and if I could only get him to eat his peas and put his toys away, life would be great.
I’m also having fun with my latest TV gig. I appear regularly in The Economist's Corner on the PBS TV affiliate in Los Angeles. It’s a class operation with quality people, and the station provides the kind of in-depth regional and local TV news lacking in most of the cities around the country.
I’m likewise blessed to be working on an innovative project for McGraw-Hill, which is the largest publisher of economic textbooks in the world. My job is to transform their introductory economics textbooks into multimedia presentations so that students can learn economics not in the classroom but on their computers and at their own pace. It’s good stuff, and I hope my efforts will in some small way make the “dismal science” more accessible and entertaining to the next generation of students.
The One That Got Away
Despite all these blessings. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that I still have some bad days — days when, as the Paul Simon song laments, I “think of things that might have been.” Oh, not about winning the congressional race. That would have been nice, and I know I would have been a better congressman than Brian Bilbray (although that is perhaps damning myself with faint praise). But the fact is, as this tale has documented, I never really had much chance to win that race.
No. The race I still think about was my first — the 1992 mayor’s race. Whether riding a wave in Ocean Beach or hitting a 5-iron off the fairway at Torrey Pines or just lying quietly in bed, I can’t help sometimes but think about what might have been had I won — not just for my own future but for my little town that I love. Because that election was one of the rare opportunities San Diego has had for someone from outside our all too parochial political establishment to take its governing helm. And if I had won, I assure you that our city would look — and feel — different than it does today.
For starters, our stadium would never have been butchered into a baseball-unfriendly behemoth to accommodate eight Sundays of bad Chargers football a year at the sacrifice of 100 days of only slightly less mediocre Padres baseball. The stadium would still be named after sports writer Jack Murphy and not some big corporation. Most importantly, taxpayers wouldn’t be forking over almost a million dollars a year to Chargers owner AJex Spanos for empty seats.
Sure, with me as mayor the Spanos Chargers might have taken a hike up the pike to LA. when their lease expired in 2002, but who the bleep cares. San Diego is bigger than Junior Seau and Bobby Beathard, and most of us have better things to do on Sundays than watch bad football anyway.
So what else? Well, the convention center expansion would have been completed by now but at a much lower cost than the current project. This is because I would have chosen the Chevy design at $140 million rather than the ridiculous $250 million Cadillac that Susie Golding and those “fiscal conservatives” on the Union-Tribune’s editorial board have insisted upon.
Then there’s the proposed new central library — still waiting for taxpayers to approve a bond issue. That delay wouldn’t have happened to my Decentral Cyber Library. It would have already been built too — housed not in an expensive downtown building but rather in cyberspace, and it would already be linked to all our satellite library branches as well as to the Internet. The library’s motto: Mighty bytes, not musty books. (By the way, I would have funded it with a half-cent tax on sales of the Union-Tribune.)
As mayor, I would have focused on fixing potholes and the national embarrassment San Diego calls its sewer system. I would have better protected our environment, built more bike lanes, increased the number of cops on the street, and expanded economic opportunity, particularly for our communities in the southern part of the city, which are racked by crime and urban blight.
But the biggest impact I think I would have had on San Diego would have been to make city government more accessible to our people. In 1992, I ran on a platform of holding regular nighttime city council meetings out in each of the city council districts so that working people might have the chance to participate in the process, and I would have kept that promise. Even today, I think this would be the single most important innovation for local government, one that would make our government for more open than it now is. But our “City Council Inc.” likes it just the way it is — a day job with minimal interruption from the public and maximum access to the 100 or so lobbyists and lawyers who lurk around city hall calling the shots.
As for patronage, you certainly wouldn’t have found me appointing a bunch of fat cats like Brian Seltzer and Bill Evans and Matt Peterson to plums like the stadium authority. Nor would Mike McDade have been appointed to the Port Commission. And I never would have spit in the face of city employees by appointing right-wing, anti-labor zealots like Daniel Eaton and Bob Ottilie to the Civil Service Commission.
Nor would I have committed the perhaps most subtle outrage of the Golding regime — the elimination of the city planning director’s position and the subsequent castration of that department. In a city plagued by overdevelopment, traffic congestion, and air pollution, it’s remarkable that this was allowed to happen, and I blame drones on the council like Chris Kehoe and Valerie Stallings, who should and do know better, for allowing this abomination to happen.
But maybe I’m fooling myself. Maybe, I, too, would have sold out like Susan Golding to the same sirens at city hall who pump your ego and primp you for higher office. More likely, I would have been indicted like Roger Hedgecock was when he was mayor and forced out of office. Or, if the city attorney couldn’t come up with a real or imagined felony to pin on me, I most certainly would have been the target of a recall election orchestrated by the Union-Tribune long before I could have done any lasting damage to the city’s power brokers.
Don't Call Me, I'll Call You
But the beauty of this speculation is that none of us will ever know what I could have done as mayor. What I do know is that on the day after losing my race for Congress, my phone did what it always does after one of my losses — it went silent. In fact, on that bleak day, the only call I got was not from the Suicide Hot Line but from Vice President Al Gore.
AI Gore is a decent man, his love handles notwithstanding, and this is the kind of call people in politics — particularly in the White House — don’t have to make. But he made it, and he thanked me for my service to the country, and for that I’m grateful. During that call, I also mentioned that I’d love to get a job in the Clinton-Gore administration. I told him that I would be sending my application in to Bob Nash at the White House, and he said he would see what he could do to help me. So for, however, his promise has borne no fruit, so I have lots of time to contemplate the local political landscape. At least from my perspective, it’s not an inspiring sight.
Hedgecock for Mayor
First, there is the mayor’s race coming up in the year 2000. The thought of a Mayor Ron Roberts is only slightly less appealing than a Mayor Bob Filner — yet these two men have to be considered the front-runners at this point.
In this regard, and as I have indicated earlier, I think Ron Roberts is a decent man with modest governing skills and good intentions. But San Diego needs somebody with greater vision than Ron Roberts to lead it into the 21st Century, and let me prove it to you with this pop quiz. What’s the greatest single political achievement of Ron Roberts? I’ll give you six hours to think about it.
Okay, time’s up. You see what I mean. There isn’t anything. You can’t think of a single thing Ron Roberts has ever done worthy of great praise. Put in its most pure form, Ron Roberts is to mediocrity as Junior Seau is to pain and Ted Leitner is to pain in the ass.
Which leads us to the second likely candidate. Bob Filner. If you don’t understand why a Mayor Filner nauseates me, then you haven’t read the earlier chapters of this story. But there’s one other reason Hemorrhoid Bob shouldn’t be mayor and that is because he almost destroyed the city council when he represented the Eighth Council District. Or am I the only one who remembers that as the leader of the so-called Gang of Five, irascible Bob turned the council into the local-government equivalent of Beirut for almost a year. Oh, you don’t believe me? Just ask Maureen O’Connor, who had to suffer that fool, and not very gladly.
So who else is likely to run for the seat? There’s Barbara Warden, whose major asset is that she comes from a community with the highest voter turnout, the senior citizen-rich Rancho Bernardo. Also, Warden’s a woman, and the last two mayors have been women. But beyond her gender and constituency-base assets, Barbara is the Big Zero, the Hole in the Donut, one divided by infinity. Like Gertrude Stein’s Oakland, there’s no “there” there. (Don’t believe me again? Just give her the Ron Roberts test above.)
So that leaves us with the scariest mayoral candidate of all, Roger Hedgecock. He will almost certainly belly up to the bar in the year 2000, and he will almost certainly be one of the candidates in the runoff. He’ll be a candidate because, to this day, I believe it eats him alive that he threw away his political career as mayor, and there’s not enough money in this world to heal that canker sore.
If he were to run, Hedgecock would likely be one of the two candidates in a runoff, particularly in a crowded primary. His radio audience is big enough and zealous enough to get him the 30-plus percent he would need to survive a primary. But I doubt that Hedgecock could ever win a majority in San Diego because he’s alienated and insulted a solid bloc of the electorate, particularly women and particularly the blacks. Latinos, gays, and union members who put him over the top the last time.
As for my other bitter political pill, City Councilwoman Chris Kehoe is running for the job I once sought against Brian Bilbray — a fact that brings into sharper focus Kehoe’s freeze-dried refusal to endorse me during my own race for Congress. But personally, I don’t think Kehoe’s bid is a serious one. It’s merely a way for her to gain name recognition and turn the gay issue into old news when she runs for another office — the most likely being Susan Davis’s assembly seat when Davis is termed out in the year 2000. However, when Bilbray’s consultants paint her as a tax-and-spend lesbian, as they no doubt will, and when Bilbray kicks her butt pretty good, Kehoe may not see her trial run as such a good strategy.
Be Nice, Be Charming, and Smile
These bitter pills notwithstanding, I’ve tried to take to heart the advice of one of my favorite quotations: “The difficulties of life are intended to make us better, not bitter.” I hope I’m a better man for the difficulties in politics that I’ve gone through. I also hope that you’ve had as much fun reading this story as I’ve had writing it.
As this tale comes to a close, I’d like to leave you with my last, and perhaps most important lesson. If I’ve learned anything from a life in politics, it is this: There is an appropriate way to comport oneself in any political situation — whether it’s congressional politics, office politics, or the politics that play out daily among friends and co-workers, and within every American family. That way is this:
- Walk through life as if you are a public figure recognizable to everyone, and behave accordingly.
- Be nice, be charming, and smile as often as possible (except at funerals and Rotary Club meetings).
- Treat every person you meet as a potential voter, listen to them, and learn from them.
- Never show anger (although it’s okay to get even).
- Never, ever cheat, especially yourself, even if you are absolutely, positively sure that you can get away with it.
- Most importantly, enjoy yourself.
Politics is, after all, as much a process as an end product. It truly is the steps along the way that matter, and the roses that you smell taking those steps. If you take each of those steps carefully and ethically, with as much grace and lightness as you can muster, the journey will wind up being good — whether you win or lose. I know it has been for me.
— Peter Navarro